Posts Tagged ‘Introductions


A sense of an ending: writing conclusions

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If all’s well that ends well, then something’s seriously rotten in the state of essay writing. Even the some experienced writers seem to struggle with conclusions.

Suspect conclusions come in one of three varieties, all of which leave something to be desired. The worst of these is simply leaving the ending off. Others write the thesis again and then say the same things they said in the introduction. (I’ve even seen some papers where the conclusion is literally a copy and pasted version of the introductory paragraph. Please don’t do this.) The third strategy, summarizing the points of the paper in one paragraph, is only slightly better than the other two strategies. Continue reading ‘A sense of an ending: writing conclusions’


Writing is like magic: only not in the way you expect

A few months ago, I overheard one of our peer consultant, Chris, speaking excitedly about the end stages of a paper. “I just love that moment when it all comes together,” he said. “It’s like magic.”

I agreed that those end stages of a paper can feel magical. When connections between

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different ideas appear and the work you put into research and writing starts to pay off, it can feel exhilarating. I recall Seamus Heaney noting these feelings at a reading some years ago. An audience member asked Heaney what his favorite part of writing a poem was and Heaney said that it was when the poem could get up on its own two legs, move around, and surprise him, showing him ideas or meanings he hadn’t thought of before.

When I tell that Heaney story to classes, some students struggle with the idea that any piece of writing could surprise them. For these writers, that magical moment seems impossible. The end stages of a paper seem at best a relief of stress and frustration. At worst, they confirm the writer’s feelings of self doubt and failure. In these cases, the idea that there is a magic to writing can have a negative effect. If writing is magic, then those writers who don’t feel that mystical exhilaration may give up too soon, imagining that they just can’t cut it.

For all, writing can be like magic, but it won’t be the kind of magic that appears in fairy tales. The magic in writing shares much more in common with the magic you might see on stage at a Vegas nightclub. It may look slick, as if it defies the laws of physics, but it’s all a well practiced illusion. As writers, understanding the basis of these illusions provides us with a lot that we can steal to improve on our own texts. Continue reading ‘Writing is like magic: only not in the way you expect’


Free Beer – The Wrong Way to Hook a Reader

I’m not a big fan of telling writers that you need to start papers by “hooking the reader.” I feel the idea that “hooking readers” focuses too much on how to get a reader’s attention and too little on how to keep it.

Too often writers try to hook their readers by starting with hyperbolic statements. Over exaggerating the importance of an essay topic creates a false promise that the essay can’t live up to. That’s not a good thing. A band called Free Beer would almost certainly draw a crowd, but it’s also likely that crowd leaves angry and sober. The same principle is at play in writing.

As everybody knows from “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, grabbing someone’s attention when you don’t have something relevant to say is a great way to guarantee that people will stop listening to you.


How to get relevant introductions from students

Since the dawn of time, writing teachers have had to deal with introductory paragraphs built around vague overgeneralizations that have little to do with anything in the rest of the essay. I have observed colleagues in coffee shops audibly groan when they read a paper starting with the phrase “throughout humankind.” While many instructors lament students’ attachments to the conventional thinking that states that introductions should start broad, others wave a flag of surrender, instructing students to forgo introductions entirely and just put the thesis in the first sentence. That approach ignores the values of a great introduction, which I can’t cover at this time.  (For the record though, it should be noted that putting an instructor in a good mood while grading a paper is a strategy not to be undervalued.)

What I can do here is show how to get relevant introductions from your students. And contrary to what some believe, teaching relevance has little to do with helping students calibrate the breadth of their opening sentence. Students are best served when they are forced to rethink their understanding of introductions, including what their purpose is and when they are best written. Continue reading ‘How to get relevant introductions from students’

Good Writer, Bad Writer

Good writer, bad writer reflects the philosophy behind the first writing lesson I attempt to teach students. Too many of them come into college believing that their writing abilities are set in stone. The bad writers continue to struggle, and the good writers don't take enough risks in their writing, figuring that any misstep will throw them back into the "bad writer" category.

Good writer, bad writer is my attempt to break the power of that dichotomy. On here, I share the lessons and attitudes that I teach, but I also talk about the attitudes I have towards my own writing since many of those have informed my own teaching. Thanks for visiting.

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